As I muddle through the very dense and wonderful book ‘Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings’, it’s continually evident that 1) Smithson was way ahead of his time in thinking of sites within the context of emphemerality and change, and 2) the field of landscape architecture can learn significant amounts from the library of land art – not just in reframing ideas within a landscape context, but in thinking seriously about process. The disappearance and re-emergence of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) is just one example amongst many to ponder.
:: Spiral Jetty – image via Treehugger
Smithson is also one example of a land artist with a significant written documentation to back it up, allowing perhaps a greater glimpse into the mind of the artist at work. I will post a more extensive discussion of the book once I am able to digest it all in a meaningful way, but in the meantime, there’s been some interesting land-art news as well as some interesting installations that are worth a look.
Some perils of this large-scale and immovable art… namely potential degradation and removal due to land pressures. One current example is the afforementioned Spiral Jetty, via Treehugger: “Now it, and other such natural pieces are under threat because of real estate development and oil drilling pressures. In this case, an oil company wanted to conduct exploratory drilling into the lake bed. In response a protest was mounted by the Dia Art Foundation and the state of Utah received thousands of complaints. “What we particularly object to is the potential visual impact that drilling might have on the work, as well as the equally important environmental impact it could have on the lake itself and its delicate ecosystem,” says a director of Dia. “An oil spill could be disastrous for the lake, and therefore, the jetty.”
:: images via Robert Smithson
The work of Michael Heizer got some digital ink as well, including a threat (in the form of a new train route adjacent to his long-term piece ‘City’ (circa 1970-present):
:: image via Treehugger
And the natural degradation of Double Negative (1969), which “…consists of two trenches cut into the the Mormon Mesa in Nevada. Around 240,000 tons of sandstone was displaced to create the ravines which span 1,500 feet and are each 50 feet deep.” While the natural degradation may seem a threat, it was part of the process: “The artist asked that no conservation be undertaken on the piece so the walls of the man-made canyon are slowly crumbling and it is disappearing.”
:: image via Treehugger
And via Tropolism, perhaps a way to find the site before it turns from it’s present nothingness, and degenerates back into dust… “Greg Allen does the homework and finds one of our favorite works of Land Art, Double Negative, using the GPS device in the car of his in-laws. The large yet simple cut in the earth, famously difficult to find in the era of cars without GPS and the before-time of non-internet, is now super easy to find! He also found it on Google Maps in a really great satellite photo of the work.”
:: image via Tropolism
An exhibition that has made the rounds (and is recently housed at San Francisco’s de Young Museum) is Maya Lin‘s Systematic Landscapes. Inhabitat covers the new work in a post entitled “Re-mixed Topographies’ which alludes to the idea of mixing the scientific with the representational in these studio works, “…without compromising the wisdom and wonder of studying natural phenomena” The centerpiece is ‘2×4 Landscape’, as well as a few other works included as well.
:: 2×4 Landscape – image via Inhabitat
:: Line – image via Inhabitat
:: Lake Pass – image via Inhabitat
Spanning the gap between the monumental land art and the studio installations, a couple of recent additions include The Sequence by Arne Qunize (via MoCo Loco) and Field of Light by Bruce Munro (via Dezeen). These installations add to our continuum of landscape interventions – often playing off the context of site and in these cases – the adjacent architecture.
:: The Sequence – images via MoCo Loco
:: Field of Light – images via Dezeen
It looks like land art, landscape-based studio art, and art in the landscape, are all still alive and well in contemporary design society. That, to me, is a good sign.